We come to the end of the season reviews with the man that stat guys love to hate and Blazer sentimentalists love to love, Juwan Howard. Having signed on for what was primarily a motivational/ceremonial role, the aging veteran found himself pressed into regular duty because of injuries to Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden. This is the first thing to understand about Howard's season. He played a total of 824 minutes in the last two seasons combined. He nearly doubled that with 1632 total minutes this year. In other words he crammed four standard Juwan seasons into this year. At 6'9", 240 pounds, and 36 years of age he found himself playing five minutes at center for every one minute at his customary power forward position. He started 27 games, exceeding his starts in the past two years by a factor of 13.5. From top to bottom the Blazers asked Juwan to do things well outside of his expected duties.
Howard's job description contained multiple bullet points. His main function was to be an inning-eater, covering minutes, sometimes whole games, while others were resting or injured. The Blazers didn't expect him to go out there and win it. They wanted him to hold the fort, fit in with his teammates, provide support for the featured players. In the midst of this he was expected to play with intelligence and to provide a veteran presence. As an added bonus he also clocked a few players coming down the lane, sometimes because hammering a guy was the right thing to do, sometimes because he just got tired from playing all those minutes and figured the clock stoppage might as well be memorable.
Juwan's most impressive stat was probably his overall field goal percentage, which sat at 50.9% for the year. His jump shot was usually on target. He even pulled a drive or two out of the valise for the youngsters to gander at. The near-51% rate exceed his career average by a healthy amount, as did his True Shooting and Effective Field Goal percentages. His rebounding rate was right on his career average, his rebounding percentages somewhat above. His assists were way down and his turnover rate rose somewhat but neither are huge facets of his game. In most areas (save endurance, at which he outstripped expectations) Juwan was in line with what you'd expect. You just saw more of him than planned.
The Achilles Heel (so prominent that it might be called a full Achilles Leg) to Howard's game was his defense. His defensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions was marginal. Add in hardly any blocks or steals and not enough defensive rebounds to keep the team afloat and you start seeing cracks. Howard got obliterated head-to-head at either position. Opponents had their way with him in the shooting and scoring departments. Howard was a liability in the clutch as well...not the guy you wanted to end games with.
Howard also came up short in the team stats. He was the only regular rotation player with a negative plus-minus, right around -0.83. Portland's defense was 3.2 points better in points-per-100 with Howard off the floor. Portland's offense was a massive 6.1 points worse in points-per-100 when he played for a -9.4 difference overall. Portland rebounded worse, shot a lower Effective Field Goal percentage, allowed a higher Effective Field Goal percentage when he played.
Once again, though, you have to ask what was really expected of Juwan. He was acquired to be the 12th-15th guy, a locker-room guru. You're really going to expect him to come through in the clutch? You're going to expect him to play even with opposing centers? I used an analogy in a Fanpost earlier in the year that I think still holds. Howard is the used car you bought for $100. You only had it for emergencies but your main ride broke down and you ended up having to drive that thing on your cross-country trip. It had its ups and downs but in the end it never broke down and it got you home in once piece. By all rights you should have blown your radiator in Tucson and stalled trying to get up the Appalachians. Complaining about the upholstery and the worn shocks would be silly. Juwan Howard is not the player of Portland's dreams. He is the guy who helped them get through a very rough, very nasty season. If he had been playing for Dallas I don't know what Portland would have done for a frontcourt between Przybilla's injury and the Camby trade. The Blazers would not have won 50 without him. His professionalism was icing on the cake. Hopefully his intelligence and conduct rubbed off on his teammates.
Season Performance: B (The B is for playing all of those minutes even though it was an average season for Juwan at this point and not pretty in the team stat department. He gave a lot more than I expected.)
Biggest Question Marks: None. Juwan is Juwan. Plus we'll never see another season like this and in a normal season Juwan's questions just don't matter.
Future with the Team: With a rejuvenated frontcourt plus plenty of veteran help now I don't see Juwan coming back unless it's in an assistant coach role. I'm guessing the team would welcome that. If not, it was good to have you, Juwan. In a way I'm sorry the season fell off the rails because it could have been much more for you team-wise. But that same disaster of a season allowed you to come through one more time, so it's all good. Thanks.